I love maps. My favorite activity on childhood road trips was to study the maps and find interesting cities or other place names and share them with my fellow travelers. I always prefer to be the navigator, and as long as I have a dependable map, I’m very good at it. My mom took us orienteering several times when I was young, so I learned to read a topographic map pretty well at that point, too. I’ve also perused more than my share of atlases. Having quality maps of the entire world, all in one volume, that are gorgeous, easy to read, and have plenty of additional information from which to learn new things is something that every family ought to have, if possible.
Now in its ninth edition, National Geographic is releasing its Atlas of the World on October 19th. This gorgeous and very large volume comes in a durable slipcase, has a silvery ribbon bookmark to mark your place or your favorite page, and includes two frameable world maps tucked inside. The eighth edition of the atlas came out in the autumn of 2004, so quite a lot of updating has been done since then. Some of the updating includes new satellite imagery as well as completely redrawn political and physical maps. Ocean floor maps are included in this atlas for the first time. The place-name index has 10,000 additional entries since the last edition.
Enlarged regional maps also will help you understand the areas in which major world political and environmental happenings have taken place. Nine regional plates are new to this edition: Greenland, the Amazon region, Greece and the Aegean with Cyprus, the Caucasus, Iraq and Iran, the Arabian Peninsula, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Korean Peninsula, and the Horn of Africa.
Atlas of the World contains hundreds of maps covering the surface of the Earth, in addition to the ocean floor and outer space. Maps of space, the moon, and Mars give you some perspective beyond our own planet. The space section includes new photos from the Hubble Telescope. The Universe pages now include the Kuiper Belt.
A Tour Through the Atlas
Inside both the front and back covers is a very handy key to the atlas maps. Find the region you want on the map and it will show you to what page to go. There is also a map symbol key for the political maps in the atlas.
The table of contents divides the book up into regions. Next comes political and physical world maps, followed by 20 plates on the thematic world. This is where human geography is shown: population, health, migration, agriculture, and other trends and changes. Other kinds of geography are also covered, such as energy, biodiversity, and urbanization. It’s fascinating to see how countries compare with each other, and over time. Each of these thematic world pages also includes many text boxes with information for study, suggestions of data to compare, plenty of projected numbers, and explanations of what you are seeing. There is a lot to read but it comes in small amounts, and there are many clear graphs and charts. All this information really makes you think about the world now, where we’ve been, and where we’re going. Just in these 20 pages alone is enough maps, charts, graphs, and information for hours of study.
Moving on to the heart of the book–the maps themselves–we see each section of the world in small and larger scale. I especially enjoy looking at the physical maps that don’t have any borders shown. The geologic features are much more obvious this way, and we’re reminded of the fact that borders are often arbitrary. The political maps are clearly marked, and show cities, roads, rivers, mountains, borders, and other symbols with equal clarity. Even the areas that have many labels and symbols in a small amount of space are easy to read. Country and state borders are drawn thickly, but transparently, so it’s very clear where one country or state ends and another begins. On these political maps, you notice that towns in places like Nebraska tend to fall along the rivers. It seems like it should be obvious, but geology and geography have affected the development of civilization for thousands of years. That’s just one example of what you can learn by studying an atlas. Making the most of the available space, these maps extend to the very edges of each page.
After the land maps are the ocean ones. Seeing the edges of the continental shelves gives you a glimpse into the Earth’s surface that many haven’t before contemplated. Then following these many maps are the pages on outer space. Whether you’re in the northern hemisphere or the southern hemisphere, they have your sky covered. The Moon, Mars, the Solar System, the Galaxy, and even (parts of) the Universe are drawn out clearly. The Moon and Mars maps are very detailed. Craters are outlined and all the seas are labeled, for example.
Next up, the flags of nations, states, and provinces. For each country, state, or province, there is plenty of almanac-ish information. It’s fun and useful to study a flag and a country, and then to locate it on the map. Or vice versa.
The appendix includes information on time zones and geographic data. Then the index not only has many thousands of place names, but also has entries for the oceans, Mars, and the Moon.
Throughout the book, page numbers are in the bottom corners and are color coded by region. This makes it easier to find what you’re looking for when flipping pages. And unlike a regular book, both open pages on a spread have the same page number.
There is so much more to this atlas than I can describe. It is so detailed, so informative, so easy to read, so beautiful. It will be well-used and well-loved in my house. Between my interest in maps and our homeschool studies, a good atlas is really important to me.
Spend time with an atlas for educational study, simple curiosity, and reference. I’m continually amazed at how much I learn about the world or a particular area just by reading and examining maps. And the maps in National Geographic’s Atlas of the World are particularly beautiful and informative. Sometimes it’s fun to just look at the book and see what you can find. While reviewing the atlas, I learned about an island grouping south of Madagascar called the Kerguelen Islands. I hadn’t known that they existed. They’re in the middle of nowhere. A quick Google search told me that there is a satellite tracking station there. That makes sense, since it is the only decent sized thing for thousands of miles. I learned something new, and that’s always a good thing.
If you already have an atlas, but it is a bit dated, consider buying a new one. Just studying the differences between atlases published years apart is a fascinating look at history and the political changes in the world.
National Geographic’s Atlas of the World retails for $175, but is currently listed for about $110 on Amazon.
All images courtesy of National Geographic.
Note: I received a copy of the atlas for review purposes.